Tuesday, 3 June 2014


I've been meaning to write a blog about sexism for a while, and now seems as good a time as any. Elliot Rodger's stabbing and shooting spree left seven people (including Rodger) dead, and 13 injured, but this time the discussion provoked has been more about narcissism and misogyny than gun control. Elliot is a poster boy for the entitlement generation, spending the weeks before his "retribution" against the world making whiny and pretentious youtube videos veering from "I'm awesome" to "Why do girls hate me so much?" Well, Elliot, it's probably because you also expressed the opinion that "women are flawed. There is something mentally wrong with the way their brains are wired, as if they haven’t evolved from animal-like thinking... They are beasts themselves. Beasts should not be able to have rights in a civilized society.” Contrary to popular belief, you can't keep thoughts like this hidden; they'll show in your demeanour about as subtly as a neon sign. 

The funny thing is that lots of people, male and female, don't think that sexism exists anymore. In their minds it was all stamped out circa 1970 and everything has been lovely ever since. Let's have a recap of recent events, shall we? (This is going to be link-heavy, but they're all worth reading, especially if you're happily pottering along thinking that all these crazy feminists are making a big fuss about nothing.)

Back in 2010, we had the rape case which ended in acquittal because the judge decided that the man couldn't have removed a girl's skinny jeans without her help. (Perhaps he believes all women have personal maids to help them get dressed every day?)

In 2012 we met the Muslim cleric who simultaneously annoyed and insulted all men, women, and Muslims when he suggested that if women don't want to get raped, it should be illegal for them to dress provocatively. And the female judge who told a woman who had been sexually assaulted by a police officer, "If you wouldn't have been there that night, none of this would have happened to you."

George Galloway defended Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, explaining that having sex with a sleeping woman wasn't rape, just "bad sexual etiquette". Whatever happened to "Consent is too low a bar. Hold out for enthusiasm"? (Incidentally, in the last decade several men have been cleared of rape after it was ruled they were suffering from "sexsomnia". Sympathetic as I am to anyone suffering from a genuine sleeping disorder, might I suggest that the law should hold us all responsible for our actions anyway? It might encourage men to warn housemates to lock their doors at night, and discourage copycats who have found the perfect defence.) 

Although it saw the beginning of the No More Page 3 campaign, 2012 was a particularly trying year for the non-sexists among us: This would-be-hilarious-if-it-wasn't-our-reality article runs down some of the highlights, including the hate campaign which exploded when a woman dared to suggest that some video games were a tad misogynistic, and the Republican who claimed women wouldn't get pregnant if they'd been "legitimately" raped. A police poster campaign informed men that if they rape women, they'll be arrested, could lose their job and be placed on the sex offender's register. (The fact they might have also ruined someone's life wasn't worth mentioning.)

By 2013, things weren't much better; a State Representative for New Hampshire referred to women as "vaginas", and couldn't understand why people were upset with that. (More shockingly, nobody called him on his grammar; he actually wrote "vagina's". I don't know which is worse.)

Our culture is full of insidious little examples of sexism that go unnoticed. Like the Daily Mail articles which describe business women as "blonde and pillow-lipped." (Run any article through regender.com for a giggle.) Then there's the way we teach little girls that it's flattering if a boy picks on you because it means he likes you. The obsession with dividing children by gender seems harmless but has enormous impact. (I've actually come across this frequently at work; if we're shooting a commercial with children, someone will always use the old "Let's show 'em that boys / girls are the best!" when trying to get an enthusiastic performance out of a 7-year-old. Not to mention those annoying warm-up acts at pop concerts where the audience is encouraged to "beat" the opposite sex at something as mundane as singing along.)

The media recently blew up at the BBC, apparently for the overly-politically-correct act of cutting the word "girl" from a Commonwealth Games documentary. Unfortunately the reports had largely got the wrong end of the stick it wasn't the word itself that was considered dodgy, it was the fact that presenter Mark Beaumont said "I am not sure I can live that down – being beaten by a 19-year-old-girl." Because it's shameful for a non-Judo-practising man to be beaten by a young champion of the sport if said champion is female. Obviously

Mark explained: "Maybe the editor thought it was sexist – it wasn’t." Of course not! It's never sexist to imply that women should be inferior and it's embarrassing when they're not. In 2014.  

To be fair, considering that ads like this were fairly standard back in the 1960s, it's not that surprising that the attitudes have survived... and we should be grateful that they've changed as much as they have.

It's not just sniggering university newspapers "satirising" rape or the TV shows with a fetish for nubile young flesh on the morgue slab which create the "War on Women" that is supposedly non-existent. Proms in the USA seem to be a particular hotbed for patriarchal rules; from the girl who wasn't allowed to attend unless she had a date, to the young woman who was sent home because she was too hot for the dads who were chaperoning

Then there's the music scene, starting with the time Katy Perry actually apologised to a rapper who threatened to "Smack The Shit out her" (sic) when she dared to voice an opinion on one of his tracks. While it seems a bit dated to talk about Eminem (he did release an album in 2013, but he and Avril Lavigne really need to start a club for has-beens who haven't developed or matured in the last ten years), this précis of what's wrong with him still stands. Robin Thicke, R Kelly etc are keeping up the grand tradition of objectifying women, although at least R Kelly doesn't try to hide his disgustingness, with lyrical gems like "Gonna beat the pussy til its blue" and "Break your back, crack it open like a lobster". (Who wants to make him a "Sex: You're doing it Wrong" meme?) 

Popular websites like unilad constantly excuse their most offensive offerings with the classic "It's just a joke... where's your sense of humour?" line beloved of everyone who knows they have no other defence for being a total wanker. No wonder so many horrific rape stories come out of schools and colleges, from the now infamous Steubenville case to a similar story this May.

Which brings us full circle to the sad tale of Elliot Rodger: possible narcissistic personality disorder aside, why is his behaviour horrifying but not that surprising? His opinion that women "are incapable of reason or thinking rationally. They are like animals, completely controlled by their primal, depraved emotions and impulses" sounds familiar because it was pretty standard opinion back in the days when votes for women was a distant dream.

And some people are having trouble getting rid of the old ideas.

The #YesAllWomen trend has given a horrific glimpse into the experiences of women, but for me the most poignant tweet was "Because a lot of you are reading these and thinking 'ugh yeah, we get it. Calm down.'"

The Everyday Sexism Project makes harrowing reading; but, you might ask, does it reflect reality? Or is it simply "shrill petulant whines by pathetic insecure people who consider themselves victims because someone once said something they didn’t like"? (Interestingly, this Men's-Rights- supporting, female writer also asserts that "Many of (the entries) are obviously fictional", which is an interesting way of dismissing anything you don't like.)

I'll admit that I've had the odd moment of "Oh, come on!" when reading the site; one story about a woman walking into a motorbike shop and the men in there saying "Sorry, we don't sell kittens" had me chuckling for weeks. I enjoy a bit of banter with the chaps at the garage when I hand them my Hello Kitty keyring; not every bus driver who calls you sweetheart is a perpetrator of patriarchal dominance, and not every woman is going to get offended if you open a door for her. (Hopefully NOBODY would be rude enough to reject simple good manners.) 

Watch any comedy about a man disguised as a woman Some Like It Hot, Mrs Doubtfire, Tootsie and you'll find that much hilarity ensues from the amorous attention they attract from other men. 

The trouble is, it's not so funny when it happens every time you venture out of the house. (Or whenever you open your front door, if your delivery man is particularly pervy, and yes, I speak from experience.) Most of us manage to pop out occasionally without being groped, but we all have a few hair-raising tales of being followed, flashed at, or at the very least, lectured for being a cold bitch if we just want to use public transport or drive a car without being sexually harassed.

Clue: They're not calling your car a slut.

And you never know whether the guy will be happy to leave it at making kissy noises as if you were his escaped budgie, or will turn nasty: every day we face the reality of Schrödinger's Rapist. So why is it so hard to make other people understand that this stuff actually happens?
Some men believe that they're getting the raw end of the deal. (Reading Reddit's Red Pill site is a fascinating, if depressing way to spend an hour.) It's true that some things are stacked against men: one of the most painful inequalities is the fact that fathering a child gives you far fewer rights than giving birth to one. Commercial for cereals that "mums AND kids love" might suggest that mums are chained to the kitchen, but they also insult men by suggesting that dads don't give a toss what their kids eat. There's also the oddly schizophrenic way society responds to crimes against men: check out the disparate responses from bystanders when the victim of domestic violence is a man (it's Jay-Z and Solange all over again): 

There's a similar nudge nudge, wink wink attitude if a teenage boy gets involved with a predatory older woman; the kind of "relationship" which would horrify society if it involved a young girl is considered a rare treat for an equally vulnerable young man. Likewise, the kind of casual control-freakery some women indulge in with their partners ("No, he's not allowed to go out with the boys / keep that old shirt he likes / have another beer") elicits cries of "You go, girl!" when a similar display of dominance from a male partner would be met with horror and disgust.

However, that whole "women nitpicking and emasculating their men and then being surprised when they stop finding them attractive" thing is an issue for a whole other blog. While men do experience some of the same issues women do (why, just the other day I was told off by my pals for ogling some young men in very small vests) there is one huge difference, and that is the fact that few women can physically intimidate a man. As Margaret Atwood pointed out, "Men are afraid that women will laugh at them. Women are afraid that men will kill them." Men forget that they enjoy the carefree privilege of being able to go about their everyday business without feeling like an antelope walking around in lion country.

The now-classic Cracked article "5 Ways Modern Men Are Trained to Hate Women" says it best. Misogyny is deep-rooted in our society; when we dismiss killers like Rodgers as simply being mentally ill, we're missing the point. Arthur Chu of The Daily Beast explains that Rodger's rants were "a standard frustrated angry geeky guy manifesto, except for the part about mass murder." Jezebel's Erin Gloria Ryan spent time in the PUAHate (Pick-Up Artist) forum and discovered that Rodger's views were far from unique. 


Meanwhile, Natasha Devon of the Telegraph says feminists have got it all wrong: "In Britain in 2014, girls are entitled to the same education as boys, they can then go on to get any job they want and be paid the same as a man." Try substituting "black people" and see if you still agree. ("What do you mean you're still discriminated against? You don't have to sit at the back of the bus any more, what's your problem?") I suspect being a person of colour in today's society has some similarities with being a woman; nobody can quite "get" the level of everyday microagressions unless they experience it too.

Sadly many people seem to be confused by the very word "feminist" Beyonce, Taylor Swift, Katy Perry et al have all spoken out to distance themselves from the very idea Lady Gaga memorably scoffing "I'm not a feminist, I love men." Oh, Gaga. Let's just remind ourselves of the dictionary definition:

Feminist: a person who advocates equal rights for women.

Unfortunately even our Prime Minister isn't sure if he can commit to the f-word, telling Red magazine: "I don't know what I'd call myself … it's up to others to attach labels." (Oh, don't worry Dave, we certainly will.) He later confirmed that "What I should have said is, if that means equal rights for women, then yes. If that is what you mean by feminist, then yes, I am a feminist." Well that's nice. But what the flipping heck did he think was meant by the word?

The media likes to team the word "feminist" with "man-hating" and "angry". Lots of people seem to think that feminists aren't satisfied with equal rights, but want special privileges instead. Sure, there are some women (and men) who support the idea of all-female shortlists for jobs, or female tennis players being given equal prize money for fewer hours spent on the court, but MOST feminists would agree that true equality is the way to go.


We don't want the moon on a stick just the basics of feeling safe in our everyday lives. This amazing article takes an in-depth look at how to deal with a creepy dude, especially when nobody else wants to acknowledge that he's creepy because it would inconvenience them. The comments are eye opening for anyone who DOESN'T have to deal with this on a regular basis. Here's my favourite: 

"We had so many unproductive conversations about feminism and sexism in which he said that. “I understand that you’re angry, I really do. I get why women are angry. But don’t you see you’re driving men who might be sympathetic away with that anger?”...

I wound up talking without pause for about twenty minutes, telling him to picture a world in which he was seen as subhuman – every issue of ignorance he’d had to withstand as a vegan, but that the word “VEGAN” was stamped all over his body, and most of the world believed he was less of a person for it. That he could be denied jobs, that people would target him for violent crime, that people would demand sex and favors from him and treat him like shit if he said “No,” that people would never take no for an answer. That he could never, ever get away from that prejudice, and people would defend it, that authorities would look the other way if he was victimized. That he was asking for it; that he would be blamed for crimes that targeted him. That there were people who wanted to kill him because he didn’t act the way they expected him to. People who were trying to pass laws to make it okay to kill him if he didn’t. Places in the world he could never, ever go without risking his life, just because of one tiny fact – that he couldn’t change – about his identity. But he wasn’t allowed to be angry about it. I was crying by the time I finished.

After reading some of the atrocities which are happening now, in the 21st century, the question can no longer be "Why are feminists so angry?" it's got to be "Why AREN'T you?"

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